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CULTURE SHOCK TOOLBOX: Expats, if success in another country is what you’re after, throw the tools away and go for total immersion

Fiona Citkin for Culture Shock Toolbox
For her column this month, transitions enthusiast H.E. Rybol interviews displaced creative Fiona Citkin about her culture shock memories and coping strategies.

Hello, Displaced Nationers! Today I’m excited to introduce you to Fiona Citkin, who is a professional “diversiculturalist.” She runs her own consultancy on intercultural business competence and has written a major work on the link between intercultural competency and diversity in business, for which she was named Champion of Diversity in 2012.

Lately she has turned her attention to women leaders in the United States who are immigrants. These women came from other countries and “made” it in the world’s most competitive society, despite facing what Fiona calls “quadruple jeopardy”: 1) being women; 2) being mothers; 3) being ambitious; and 4) being foreign born. Fiona’s book is called Cracking the Code: How American Immigrant Women Leaders Achieve Success under Stress. If you’re curious to find out more, I urge you to follow her Huffington Post column, where she provides monthly reports on her research findings.

Fiona has experienced no small measure of that immigrant stress, and success, herself. She grew up and was educated in the Ukraine but has now made the leap to New Jersey.

Though Fiona is constantly on the go, I was able to catch up with her and ask her a few questions about her own culture shock experiences and tools for dealing with them. Here’s what she had to say…

* * *

Hi, Fiona, and welcome to the Displaced Nation. Can you tell us a little about your background?

I was born in Ukraine and lived there most of my life. I started a family; defended two doctorates; wrote an academic book on terminology and translation science; and became head of the English Department at Uzhgorod State University in Transcarpathia (Western Ukraine). I was a visiting professor at the Universities of Budapest, Hungary; Vienna, Austria; Bern, Switzerland, etc.—and have attended many linguistic conferences all over Europe. The longest time I stayed abroad while living in Ukraine was for a teacher-study semester at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. In short, I knew the taste of success in my homeland. And then I became a Fulbright Scholar to the United States, which gave me the experience of what it means to have one’s old life burn down and try to be a phoenix in a foreign land. As a newcomer in America, I have reinvented myself more than once.

In the context of transitioning from Europe to the United States, did you ever put your foot in your mouth? Can you share any memorable stories?

Here’s a story: I’ve been taught British English, like everybody in Europe. Learning the differences between the British and the American English seems funny now—but wasn’t then. For example, my co-worker Hugh, a friendly guy, suddenly started paying compliments to me, like “Oh, your pants are beautiful” – “Another pair of pretty pants, Fiona” – “I wish my fiancé had such nice pants as yours.” I felt confused and didn’t respond, because in Britain “pants” typically denotes ladies’ underwear…what does he want, I thought? Finally, a girlfriend explained to me that Hugh meant to praise my choice of what in Britain is referred to as “trousers.”

He likes my pants

Photo credit: Pixabay.

What does one do in a situation like that?

When I am not sure what to say, I say nothing and just smile.

Looking back on your transition from the Ukraine to the East Coast of the U.S., can you recall any situations that you handled with surprising finesse?

I hate to brag about “finesse” in cultural matters. No amount of time you live in your new/adopted country can guarantee your 100% integration and “finesse”—because deep down you’ll always be yourself, have a soft spot for your native land, and retain some inborn traits of your original culture. For my upcoming book I have interviewed 50 outstanding American women achievers who happen to be first-generation immigrants, so I have not only my own experience but also their accumulated know-how of how to handle cultural transition. The main fact is: cultural integration is a must for those who want to succeed in a new country.

If you had to give advice to someone who just moved to a new country, what’s the tool you’d tell them to develop first and why?

First, focus on strategies rather than tools, or tactics, because first things should come first, right? After twenty years of living and working in the United States, I have some worthy advice to share—and my books’ subjects have even more. To put it in a nutshell:

  1. Get the best education you can, hopefully in the field that’s most desirable in the host country (high-tech is the best for the USA).
  2. Learn the language BEFORE you come as an immigrant—but remember that culture trumps language, e.g., cultural integration is more important.
  3. Learn to be outgoing, friendly, and helpful to others; participate in the work of your local community.
  4. Be entrepreneurial—as this is the best way to sustain yourself: immigrants experience difficulties in getting jobs, everywhere.
  5. Last but not the least, use whatever your cultural heritage equipped you with to your best advantage.
American Flag and immigrant women successes

Photo credits: Ivana Trump, by Lloyd Klein via Flickr (CC BY 2.0); Firma de Isabel Allende, by Pedro Cambra via Flickr (CC BY 2.0); Gloria Estefan, by Louise Palanker via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0). American flag by Pixabay.

Finally, before my book comes out, you can pick up ideas and pieces of advice from my monthly blogs at the Huffington Post.

Thank you so much, Fiona, for taking the time to share your culture shock stories. Developing an outgoing personality—but also knowing when to smile and say nothing—sounds to me like the kind of gauge or caliper we could all use in our cultural transitions. And if you’re in it to win it, so to speak, then it’s time to throw the toolbox away and immerse yourself, hook, line and sinker!

* * *

Readers, what do you make of Fiona’s advice? It would be particularly interesting to hear from those who meet her quadruple stress test (woman, mother, ambitious, foreign) but still have managed to achieve some success: do you have anything to add to Fiona’s prescriptions?

Well, hopefully this has you “fixed” until next month.

Until then. Prost! Santé!

H.E. Rybol is a TCK and the author of Culture Shock: A Practical Guide and Culture Shock Toolbox. She loves animals, piano, yoga and being outdoors. You can find her on Twitter, Linkedin and Goodreads. She is currently working on her new Web site and her second book.  

STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts.

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BOOKLUST, WANDERLUST: Beach bound? Check out summer reading recommendations from featured authors (1/2)

booklust-wanderlust-2015

Attention displaced bookworms! Our book review columnist, Beth Green, an American expat in Prague (she is also an Adult Third Culture Kid), has arrived with a treasure chest full of recommended reads to take you through the summer. NOTE: Check out Part Two here.

Hello again, Displaced Nationers!

Summer is upon us—well, for readers in the northern hemisphere, that is! And for those in the United States, Fourth of July weekend is coming shortly. Even if you’re not beach bound, perhaps you are at least picturing yourself sitting in a beach chair feeling the sand through your toes, the waves pounding towards you, the fresh, bracing sea air filling your lungs…

And what’s that you have in your hand—a book or a Kindle?

I find the sound of the waves and the ocean breeze the perfect conditions for escaping into other worlds that writers conjure up for us in their books. This summer, I’ve already been to a few local parks with my e-reader, and I’ll soon be topping it up with some of the books from our best-of-2014 list for an overseas trip. But I’m always on the look-out for fresh new material, and as there are miles to go before I can flop down on the beach of my dreams, I fear I’ll run out of prime reading matter by then. With this eventuality in mind, I decided to reach out to a few of the authors whose books I’ve recently read or reviewed, along with a few of my bookish friends, to see what books they recommend taking on vacation. I asked them to tell me:

Summer Reading 2015

Photo credits: Amazon Kindle PDF, by goXunuReviews via Flickr (CC BY 2.0); beach chair and sandy feet via Pixabay.

They responded with recommendations that seem tailor made for an audience of international creatives. Enjoy! Part 2 will be posted on Friday.

* * *

ALLI SINCLAIR, world traveler, Australian romance author and former co-blogger at Novel Adventurers: I recommend that you bring one travel book, one classic, and one novel. The following make a good combination:

ChasingtheMonsoon_cover_x300Chasing the Monsoon: A Modern Pilgrimage Through India, by Alexander Frater (Henry Holt & Co, May 1992)
There are some books that touch something in your soul that stays with you forever. For me, Chasing the Monsoon falls into that category. Originally published in the early nineties (and thankfully, still available!), Alexander Frater follows the monsoonal rains from the Kerala backwaters in southern India to Cherrapunji, in northern India—known as the wettest place on earth. Frater connects beautifully with the people he meets and he writes for all senses, giving the reader a full immersion into one of the most captivating countries on Earth.

The Ascent of Rum Doodle_cover_x300The Ascent of Rum Doodle, by W.E. Bowman (Vintage Classics, 2010)
Originally published in 1956 but still in print, this book is one of the most celebrated mountaineering stories of all time. The 1950s saw some of the world’s highest mountains successfully climbed (including Everest), and this book is a parody of mountaineering at it’s finest…er, worst. There’s a route finder who is constantly lost, a diplomat who continually argues, and a doctor who is always ill. Rum Doodle will most definitely appeal to fans of Bill Bryson, who wrote the introduction to the book’s international edition (published in 2010).

HellofromtheGillespies_cover_x300Hello From The Gillespies, by Monica McInerney (Penguin, 2014)
I’m a long time fan of Monica McInerney’s books, maybe because Monica is a “displaced” person: having grown up in Australia, she has split her time between Australia and Ireland for the past 20 years. This book is mostly set in outback Australia but with ties to England. Angela Gillespie, a mother of four adult children, has sent out a regular Christmas letter to friends and family for thirty years. The notes are always cheery and full of good news but this year, her note details the unsettling truth of how her family has fallen apart. If you enjoy family sagas with humour and heart, you can’t go wrong with this book. (True, some people recommend it for the holidays, but it’s summer in Australia at Christmas time, remember?)


BRITTANI SONNENBERG, adult TCK, current expat and author of Home Leave (which we reviewed in November): I would pack the following books (assuming I’d be packing it for someone else, who hadn’t read them yet).
Sonnenberg_collage

The Dog, by Joseph O’Neill (Vintage, September 2014)
It’s a devilish, compelling take on cosmopolitan and expat life by the TCK author of Netherland. (Joseph O’Neill was born in Cork, Ireland, in 1964 and grew up in Mozambique, South Africa, Iran, Turkey, and Holland. He now lives in New York City.)

Ghana Must Go, by Taiye Selasi (Penguin, 2014)
This is an intimate examination of a splintered family, set in Accra, Lagos, London, and New York.

All My Puny Sorrows, by Miriam Toews (McSweeney’s, 2014)
One of the saddest and funniest books I’ve ever read; an honest, moving portrayal of sisters and mental illness.


CHRISTINE KLING, author of travel- and sailing-related thrillers: I’ve just finished up the edits on a the third novel in my Shipwreck Adventure series, and I’m looking forward to taking a bit of time off from writing and working at reading my way through some of the long list of books I’ve been wanting to read. The three books I’d take in my beach bag include two novels and a combination cookbook/memoir/travelogue.

The-Janissary-Tree_cover_x300The Janissary Tree, by Jason Goodwin (Sarah Crichton Book, 2006)
My husband and I are contemplating building a new boat in Turkey, and after our recent visit, I’ve fallen in love with the country. Jason Goodwin has written travel books, histories, and thrillers, and I’ve been waiting for the chance to begin reading his work. The Janissary Tree, winner of the 2007 Edgar Award for Best Novel, is the first in what is now his five-book series set in in the waning days of the Ottoman Empire’s Istanbul. The series features a very unique protagonist Yashim Togalu, a eunuch guardian. In this book, Yashim is called upon to investigate a series of crimes including murder and theft of jewels.

Marina_cover_x300Marina by Carlos Ruiz Zafón (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2014)
The first book I read by this author was The Shadow of the Wind, which I often cite as one of my favorite books of all time. I knew Zafón had written a young adult novel that was published in 1999 and became a “cult classic” in Spanish, and since I enjoy good YA novels like the Harry Potter series and the Hunger Games, I was happy to see this book finally released in English in 2014. Marina is set in Barcelona around 1980 at the end of Franco’s regime. This gothic tale is touted as containing elements of mystery, romance and horror as a young boarding school boy meets the exotic, dark Marina. Together they embark on a series of adventures where they meet the kind of grotesque Barcelona characters Zafón does so well.

Sea-Fare_cover_x300Sea Fare: A Chef’s Journey Across the Ocean, by Victoria Allman (Norlightspress Com, 2013)
Years ago I worked as a chef on our owner-operated charter sailboat, and I know what it is like to have to create meals for demanding guests. Victoria Allman is in an entirely different category as she trained as a chef and has worked your years on multi-million dollar yachts. In Sea Fare, Allman has combined the tales from her beginning as a green Canadian chef looking for a job in the charter yacht industry to the joys of shopping in exotic markets from Italy to Vietnam. From the descriptions of her experiences on board the yacht, dealing with crew problems and falling in love with the captain, the stories are grand, but the recipes and the outstanding color photos of the food, will probably cut my trip to the beach short as I head home to try some new dish.


HEIDI NOROOZY, adult TCK, translator and author of multicultural fiction: I just returned from a research trip to Germany, and my choices seem to reflect that! (I went there because I’m writing a novel about an East German detective, Johannes Christian Alexander Freiherr von Maibeck—I know, it’s a bit of a mouthful—I created for a short story I once wrote. The setting is Leipzig, German Democratic Republic, 1981.)

The-Leipzic-Affair_cover_x300The Leipzig Affair, by Fiona Rintoul (Aurora Metro Press, May 2015)
Set in 1985, this novel tells the story of a Scottish student at Leipzig University who falls in love with an East German girl and stumbles into a world of shifting half-truths. Well written and fast paced, the story captures the atmosphere of its setting very well, a world where nothing is ever quite what it seems. As one reviewer writes: “The book is expertly written and seems to me to be a very comprehensive picture of what it was like to live in the East German state.” (Rintoul, a Scot who lives in Glasgow, gathered her material for the book by visiting East Germany and meeting a woman who had been imprisoned. She also looking at extracts of STASI files on people she met.)

Zoo-Station_cover_x300Zoo Station: Adventures in East and West Berlin, by Ian Walker (Atlantic Monthly Press, 1988)
British journalist Ian Walker, who once covered Central America for the Observer (and never managed to write his promised volume on Nicaragua), produced this travelogue on the two Berlins back in 1988. It depicts bohemian life in the once-divided city, where everyone seemed to be from somewhere else: West Berlin was full of Brits, Asians, Danes, Turks and East German exiles; East Berlin, of Anglo-Austrian expats. Walker’s descriptive narrative and reflections on the broader social issues of the day are what make this book stand out. As one of Amazon reviewer puts it:

Having read “Zoo Station”, I was able to understand why some people regarded East Germany as a pinnacle of socialist achievement, much more preferable to its capitalist twin in the West. It is good travel writing, and is both politically and culturally astute.

The-One-That-Got_Away_cover_300xThe One That Got Away, by Simon Wood (Thomas & Mercer, 2015)
Okay, this one isn’t about Germany, and I haven’t read it yet—but it’s at the top of my summer book bag. Tag line: “She escaped with her life, but the killer’s obsessed with the one that got away.” The story of two grad students in California who decide to take a road trip to to Las Vegas, this suspense novel deals with survivor’s guilt and is bound to be a thrilling ride. (Originally from England, Simon Wood lives in California with his wife.)

* * *

Readers, that’s it for this round; we’ll have another round on Friday (update: check it out here). Meanwhile, have you read any of the above and/or do you have summer reading recommendations to add? Please leave in the comments!

And if you need more frequent fixes, I urge you to sign up for the DISPLACED DISPATCH, which has at least one Recommended Read every week.

STAY TUNED for PART 2 of this post on July 3rd!

Beth Green is an American writer living in Prague, Czech Republic. She grew up on a sailboat and, though now a landlubber, continues to lead a peripatetic life, having lived in Asia as well as Europe. Her personal Web site is Beth Green Writes. She has also launched the site Everyday Travel Stories. To keep in touch with her in between columns, try following her on Facebook and Twitter. She’s a social media nut!

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BOOKLUST, WANDERLUST: 2014–2015 books recommended by expats & other international creatives (1/2)

Global Bookshelf Part OneHello Displaced Nationers! Looking back at the our popular series Best of 2014 in expat books, published at the end of last year, I decided we should continue the fun at the start of the year—and managed to convince our redoubtable editor, ML Awanohara, that the pair of us should canvass our “displaced” contacts to see what they’d enjoyed reading from last year’s crop of new books, as well as books they’re looking forward to reading in 2015.

A “best reads” roundtable, if you will.

In Part One, which appears below, several of my bookworm friends from a previous blog, Novel Adventurers, along with ML and JJ Marsh (JJ writes the Location, Locution column for Displaced Nation), discuss their favorite 2014 reads.

In Part Two, a similar group of us will talk about releases we’re hotly anticipating this year.

Having already shared my 2014 faves in last year’s series, I’ll concede the floor to others, beginning with ML.

—Beth Green

* * *

ML AWANOHARA: Thanks, Beth. These days, I seem to be more of a collector than a reader (I simply can’t keep up with all the titles I hear about!). If you’ll allow me to bend the rules, I’d like to highlight five more 2014 books I’ve discovered since our Best of 2014 in expat books went live. While I can’t personally recommend any of these titles, I feel justified in presenting them as an addendum to our series.

I’ll start with these four “displaced” novels, listed from most to least recent:

IHaveLivedToday_cover_300x200I Have Lived Today (October 2014)
Author: Steven Moore
Synopsis: Having barely survived his Dickensian childhood in 1960s Britain, Tristan Nancarrow sets out on a journey that will take him through the alleys of London and New York, to the rocky shores of ancient islands, and on pub crawls in dark and gloomy ports. The book is a classic coming-of-age adventure.
Expat creds: Originally from England, Moore is a writer, photographer, traveler and part-time ESL teacher who splits his time between Mexico, Korea and the world.
How we learned about: From his blog, Twenty-first Century Nomad.

SleepwalkersGuide_cover_300x200The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing (Random House, July 2014)
Author: Mira Jacob
Synopsis: This debut novel takes us on a journey that ranges from 1970s India to suburban 1980s New Mexico to Seattle during the dot.com boom. It follows the fortunes of the Eapens, an Indian American family dealing with tragedy and loss. Alternating between past and present, it shows the family’s transition from India to the United States. As one Indian critic writes, the story is “firmly rooted in an immigrant home, its peculiar methods and madness.”
Expat creds: Jacob is an Adult Third Culture Kid, whose Syrian Christian parents came over from Kerala, India, to New Mexico, in the 1960s. She now lives in Brooklyn with her Jewish American husband and son.
How we found out about: Recommended by Condé Nast Traveler as a book to read on a plane.

SummerattheLake_cover_300x200Summer at the Lake (Orion, June 2014)
Author: Erica James
Synopsis: An Oxford Tour guide, Floriana, a property developer, Adam, and Esme, an elderly woman who lives next door to a recent purchase by Adam, meet by chance and develop a lovely friendship, which takes them from the glittering spires of Oxford to the balmy shores of Lake Como. The story blends the tale of an old romance with a modern love affair.
Expat creds: James divides her time between living in Cheshire, UK, in a small rural hamlet and Lake Como, Italy, giving her plenty to draw upon in her books.
How we heard about: Pinterest.

TheBalladofaSmallPlayer_cover_300x200The Ballad of a Small Player: A Novel (Deckle Edge, April 2014)
Author: Lawrence Osborne
Synopsis: Lord Doyle decamps from the stuffy legal courtrooms of London to the smoky back-alley casinos of Macau, where he tries to capitalize on the ill-gotten gains that forced his flight from his homeland. But can he game the system at the island’s glitzy baccarat tables? With its expat angst and debauched air of moral ambiguity set amid the sinister demimonde of the Far East’s corrupt gambling dens, the book is an introspective study of decline and decay.
Expat creds: Lawrence Osborne was born in England and lives in New York City. A widely published and widely traveled journalist, he has lived a nomadic life in Mexico, Italy, France, Morocco, Cambodia and Thailand, places that he draws on in his fiction and non-fiction. His first novel was The Forgiven, which Beth Green reviewed for the Displaced Nation last year.
How we learned about: From Amazon.

Lastly, I have another expat memoir that was issued in 2014 and I think deserves a spot on our shelves:

FallinginHoney_cover_300x200Falling in Honey: How a Tiny Greek Island Stole My Heart (Sourcebooks, March 2014)
Author: Jennifer Barclay
Synopsis: Barclay first visited the tiny Greek island of Tilos, in the south Aegean, with friends, including a lover with promising prospects. In her mid-thirties when those prospects fell apart, she decides to reconnect with herself by returning to Tilos for a month and immersing herself in Greek culture, food, language, and dance. Emotionally healed and recharged, she returns to England, where she meets a man who wants what she wants, only to discover… (I won’t ruin it for you.)
Expat creds: Born in Manchester, UK, Barclay subsequently grew up on the edge of the Pennines—but has lived in Greece, Canada and France, with longish stays in Guyana and South Korea. She now lives mostly on Tilos. Notably, she previously produced a memoir about life in South Korea, amusingly titled Meeting Mr. Kim: Or How I Went to Korea and Learned to Love Kimchi.
How we learned about: Barclay’s “Gathering Road” podcast interview with Elaine Masters.


TheShadowoftheWind_coverJJ MARSH, crime series author and Displaced Nation columnist (Location, Locution): My best book of 2014 is The Shadow of the Wind, by Carlos Luis Záfon. All booklovers will fall hopelessly in love with this tale of a boy and a book he swears to protect after he is taken to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books by his bookseller father. Which of us could resist doing the same? Readers know how a story can act as a portal to otherwhere. This is the most perfect example, not to mention illuminating Barcelona in addition to the Franco dictatorship, love, loyalty and growth.


TheLie_coverHEIDI NOROOZY, adult TCK, translator and author (@heidinoroozy): One of the most remarkable and memorable books I’ve read recently is The Lie, by Hesh Kestin. Set in Israel, it features a Jewish human rights lawyer whose commitment to her principles is put to the test when her soldier son is kidnapped by Arab militants and whisked over the border to Lebanon. I love stories that explore the human spirit and are set against a backdrop of real-life events. The heart of this novel is the question of how far a mother is willing to go to save her child. Very chilling at times, heartbreaking at others and masterfully told overall.


PointofDirection_cover_300x200KELLY RAFTERY, translator and writer: In 2014, I loved Point of Direction, by Rachel Weaver. A starkly beautiful tale set in the Alaskan outback, it reads like a cross-cultural adventure. Most expats will recognize the feelings of culture shock, disorientation and unreality that haunt Anna, a woman on the run from her own ghosts. The sharp writing style perfectly mirrors the jagged mountains and rough seas that inhabit the novel as surely as another character.


SUPRIYA SAVKOOR, editor and mystery writer: I haven’t read many memoirs, but in recent months, I read two that blew me away. The first, Not My Father’s Son, by Alan Cumming, is a must-read, even if celebrity memoirs aren’t your thing or you don’t know much about this Scottish actor, now a dual American-British citizen based in New York City. NotMyFathersSon_cover_300x200Cumming, it turns out, is a genius storyteller, and he takes us on an extraordinary journey through two juicy family mysteries across four countries and three time periods. It is, in turns, emotional, tragic, exciting, suspenseful, and funny. The colorful cast of characters, with names like Tommy Darling and Sue Gorgeous, are real people. Along the way, you’ll learn all kinds of fascinating little tidbits, much of it cross-cultural, about genealogy, history, pop culture, language, psychology. Even Cumming’s anecdotes about his life as a TV and film star are surprisingly interesting, largely because of the author’s clear-eyed, honest wisdom. (I also highly recommend the audiobook, narrated by Cumming himself. Alongwayhome_cover_300x200 His lovely Scottish accent and intonations are an additional treat.)

A Long Way Home: A Memoir, by Saroo Brierley, is another great read. The story is simple but powerful: a five-year-old boy in rural India gets lost, is ultimately adopted to a family in Australia, then, as an adult, tracks down his birth family and reunites with them. How he pieces together his past and finds his roots is one of several beautiful mysteries in this small book. Loss and identity are obvious themes, but not just for the author. A truly unique story. (Side note: Modern technology is one of this book’s heroes.)


ASuitableBoy_coverALLI SINCLAIR, world traveler and novelist (www.allisinclair.com): I recently re-read A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth. It was released way back in 1993 and caused quite a stir in the literary world as it was one of the longest novels ever to be published in English (1,349 pages hardcover). I first read it then, and, while it’s highly unusual for me to give a book a second or third read, every few years I return to this wonderful novel rich with Indian history, family saga, and a heartbreaking romance. It’s set in post-partition India and explores the political issues at the time (1950s), along with the Hindu-Muslim issues and the caste system. It’s quite an undertaking to read this book but I enjoy revisiting the characters I love. I am very fond of stories written by Indian authors as there is a beautiful style and interesting points of view I find appealing. There’s a sequel in 2016—I can’t wait!

* * *

Thank you, ML, JJ and guests! Readers, have you read any of the above or do you have further 2014 recommendations? Please leave a comment below. And stay tuned for Part Two of this post, books to look forward to in 2015!

Finally, please be sure to sign up for the DISPLACED DISPATCH, which has a Recommended Read every week. You can also follow the Displaced Nation’s DISPLACED READS Pinterest board.

STAY TUNED for PART 2 of this post: 2015 reads!

If you enjoyed this post, we invite you to subscribe to The Displaced Dispatch, a weekly round up of posts from The Displaced Nation, plus some extras such as seasonal recipes and occasional book giveaways. Sign up for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

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CHUNKS OF DRAGONFRUIT: The story of an expat for whom Burma literally becomes the Tropic of Cancer

Dragonfruit cover and photo of Philippa Ramsden, courtesy Shannon Young. Purple dragonfruit by Mike Behnken (CC BY 2.0).

Dragonfruit cover and photo of Philippa Ramsden, courtesy Shannon Young. Purple dragonfruit by Mike Behnken (CC BY 2.0).

First of all, if How Does One Dress to Buy Dragonfruit? True Stories of Expat Women in Asia isn’t on your Christmas list, it ought to be. As regular Displaced Nation readers will know, Dragonfruit is a new anthology edited by columnist Shannon Young. Shannon has been sharing a few tasty morsels with us over the past couple of months, and we have been repeatedly amazed at the window afforded on Asia by these expat women writers. This is the third installment. The first can be read here; the second, here.

—ML Awanohara

For this month’s excerpt, I’ve chosen a piece by Philippa Ramsden. A Scotswoman, Philippa is a development and humanitarian professional, writing in any leisure time. She had been to Asia only once when she stepped off a plane in Kathmandu in 2000 to take up a new job, with no idea what to expect—and has been in Asia ever since. She has lived and worked in Nepal, Mongolia, India, Sri Lanka, and now Burma/Myanmar.*

Philippa actually submitted more than one piece for consideration in the expat women anthology, but this one stood out because it addresses head-on one of the scariest things an expat can experience: receiving a life-threatening diagnosis abroad. Philippa is a true inspiration for handling such a significant challenge without letting it undermine her sense of wonder and appreciation for the country she currently calls home.

I am honored to share the beginning of Philippa’s story here.

“Moving to the Tropic of Cancer,” by Philippa Ramsden

Rainy season in Burma is spectacular. At night, I love to lie in bed, listening to the torrential rainfall drenching the earth and bringing life and vitality to the land. Between showers, the air is so thick that you can hear the moisture dripping from leaves and branches. And if you listen very carefully, you can almost hear the grass sighing and burbling with delight as it wallows in the rainwater. When the rains come down, they do so thick and fast. Even with an umbrella and raincoat you are quickly drenched. In the intervals between the downpours, it is hot, humid and sticky.

When I arrived in Burma in mid June of 2009 to start a new job, rainy season was in full force. Having lived in Asia for more than a decade, I have become close friends with the monsoons, which bring welcome respite from stifling heat and humidity. Being caught in a sudden downpour, or even listening to the rain from outside, brings energy and feels like a revitalising force. I have many fond memories of standing, drenched to the skin, grinning from ear to ear after only a few moments in an unexpected cloudburst. It helps that the rain is warm! Coming from Scotland, where the rain can be just as heavy but usually accompanied by grey skies and often a biting wind, I have never tired of this warm torrential rain.

When the rains make their first annual appearance, they usually arrive dramatically, and the world is transformed. There is a festive feeling; smiles and laughter return. The sight of children playing in the rain, splashing in puddles and letting the rain soak them through is ubiquitous. And not just children—adults too! The city turns green, mosquitoes hold crowded parties, and the frogs grow to such a size that they sound like male tigers as they croak in the night. The ground and pavements are covered with a layer of slippery, slimy moss in the hidden spaces which have not already turned to mud.

Such was Yangon when we arrived with our suitcases, papers, and a crate of enthusiasm, to take up a new life in this enigmatic country. It is quite an experience looking for a home in such a setting. We had a temporary place to live but were keen to settle and unpack properly. In those first weeks, we tramped round a number of potential homes, the mosquitoes nipping at our ankles and the rain teeming down.

It was not too long before my husband found the perfect place, a simple bungalow within walking distance from work. We made arrangements to view it, and the heavens opened shortly before the visit. The road outside the office flooded, and we had to wade through warm, murky water to get there. It was well worth the effort, though. The bungalow was indeed perfect: modest, but deceptively spacious. The wooden floors gave it a cosy warmth and the large, high windows made it feel light and optimistic. Unusually for Yangon, it had ceiling fans throughout. My fear of earthquakes was assuaged by the fact it was all on one level. The generous garden was gloriously tropical and mature, bounded by bamboo, mango trees, and hedging, and filled with pink, white, and yellow bougainvillea, crimson foliage, pink and purple hibiscus, and scented frangipani. It was ideal. We would share it with several families of geckos, some of which were the tiniest ones I have ever seen. They added to the nighttime chorus with their characteristic chirruping sound.

After a series of one-year postings in different countries in the South and Southeast Asian region, we were very happy at the prospect of a longer posting. We were keen to move into this peaceful space and finally unpack. Particularly back in 2009, Burma had an air of mystery, and were eager to learn about our new environment. We made arrangements to rent this house and moved in as soon as everything was in order. It was a marvelous feeling to be settling at last.

By late September, the rainy season had truly left its mark: the vegetation was lush and vibrant from the rains, clothes seemed to be neither clean nor dry, almost everything was growing a layer of mould, and the humidity made me feel constantly grimy.

One unremarkable evening, as another hot, sticky, and wet day was drawing to a close, I had my usual shower to refresh myself and clean off the day’s grime. It was in the shower that I felt a hard, solid area where one should not have been, in my left breast.

I was instantly transported back in time twenty-six years to when I had found a lump one evening while bathing. I vividly remembered the sensation of sick fear as I checked that I had not imagined it. It had indeed been real all those years ago, and I had had it investigated promptly the next day with my local doctor. It had turned out to be nothing sinister and was shrinking by the time I had a hospital appointment a couple of weeks later. Although the lump at that time was not worrisome, the emotions and fear that I felt at that time were very real.

My reaction was different, however, on finding this lump all these years later. My stomach didn’t sink in quite the same way. In the previous days, I had noticed some changes in my left breast, and was intending to seek medical advice. However, I believed these to be related to my age. When my fingers rested on the hard mass, I knew that the lump plus changes must constitute worrying signs. This really could be sinister this time. I comforted and contradicted myself, focusing on the fact that eighty percent of breast lumps are benign, and moreover, there was no history of cancer at all in my family.

I swallowed the sense of fear and uncertainty. My mind had to absorb the possibility that I might have cancer. And I was living in a new and foreign environment. I had no idea what the implications might be.
*We have chosen to use Burma and Rangoon rather than Myanmar and Rangon.

* * *

Readers, if you enjoyed that morsel, I hope you will at least consider downloading a sample of the Dragonfruit anthology from Amazon or purchasing the book: the e-book and paperback of are available at all major online retailers.

And if this excerpt has made you curious to learn more about Philippa Ramsden, her blog is Feisty Blue Gecko. You can also find her on Facebook and twitter. She has written several meditations on the challenges and joys of life in a foreign environment—and they are all fascinating. She is currently working on a memoir.

* * *

Thank you so much, Shannon! Displaced Nationers, do you have any responses to the opening of Philippa’s moving story?

Before I go, here’s another reminder to purchase a copy of Shannon’s wonderful anthology. What better end-of-year gift for the expat woman in your life (or for yourself, if that is you!).

STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts!

If you enjoyed this post, we invite you to register for The Displaced Dispatch, a round up of weekly posts from The Displaced Nation, with snippets of worldly wisdom, exclusive book giveaways and our nominees for the monthly Alice Awards. Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

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TCK TALENT: Alaine Handa’s fringe fest dance performance immortalized on the big screen

One year later (August 2014), Alaine Handa finds herself dancing in Spain. (Photo credit: Alaine Handa)

One year after her Edinburgh Fringe adventure, Alaine Handa finds herself in the land of flamenco: Valencia, Spain to be precise. (Photo credit: Eveline Chang, July 2014)

Elizabeth (Lisa) Liang started up this column in summer 2013 with a two-part conversation with today’s guest, fellow TCK performing artist Alaine Handa. By the end, I for one had come to believe in the truth of Martha Graham’s assertion: “The body says what words cannot.”

—ML Awanohara

Welcome back, readers! It’s a pleasure to have choreographer/dancer and adult third culture kid Alaine Handa back with us at the Displaced Nation. As ML says, Alaine was my very first interviewee when this column made its debut last year.

I am circling back to Alaine to see what happened with her dance performance at the Edinburgh Fringe and also because, rumor has it, one of the performers has made a short documentary about this artistic adventure.

Dance and film: that’s quite a pas de deux!

* * *

Welcome back, Alaine! When we spoke to you last year you were about to premiere your newest show, Habitat, at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. The piece “shows how different people from different backgrounds change the way they behave around others and when they are alone.” How was it received at the fest?
The Fringe is the largest arts festival in the world, so we worked very hard to get the word out about our production. We blasted out press releases, distributed physical flyers everywhere (and befriended some local shopkeepers!), and performed excerpts at the venue. All of these promotional efforts starting paying off in audience numbers as the festival progressed. The feedback from audience members was mostly positive—the stories portrayed on stage were relatable. Our negative feedback was that the performance should be longer! I guess that isn’t really a bad thing: to have the audience wanting to see more.

As I recall, the members of your multicultural ensemble lived in different countries during rehearsals, so you relied on Skype, YouTube, and email a lot. What was it like to finally rehearse and perform the piece together at Edinburgh?
I rented a studio from Dance Base in Edinburgh a week before we opened for intensive rehearsals. We also lived together for the duration of the festival run so got more comfortable with each other. The rehearsal process through the 2-D medium of video was frustrating, to be quite honest. The time difference of 12 hours between New York and Singapore meant that feedback via email would be received hours later. The rare moments when we Skyped during rehearsal, we would run into problems with connectivity. I rehearsed weekly with another dancer based in Singapore and videotaped everything to send to the other dancers in New York. By the time we came together physically, it was a dream come true but also a whirlwind. We had to fit together all the puzzle pieces and find the missing links. It proved a bit of a challenge.

One of your dancers, Laura Lamp, is also a filmmaker who made a documentary short, Dreaming to Escape, about taking Habitat to Edinburgh while also exploring your philosophical and aesthetic approach to dance. Please tell us what it was like to be the subject of a documentary when you were in the middle of premiering a new work.
Laura partnered with Kevin Tadge, who runs the film company Nesby Darbfield, to make the film. They shot a lot of their material on stage, backstage, in rehearsal, at warm-ups before the performances, during dinners, in taped interviews, and everything in between. I was a bit self-conscious at first, but after a while, I just learnt to ignore the camera like a reality TV star! Upon seeing the short, I realized I should’ve cared a bit more about my appearance during rehearsals!

Where is Dreaming to Escape being screened?
Here’s what Laura reports:

“We hope to take it to documentary and dance film festivals around the world. It would be great if it screens at the Singapore Film Festival later this year. We’ve really only begun to send it out… It’s a bit of a slow process, but we’re excited to share it with everyone.”

Alaine, I understand you have relocated back to Singapore, where you were born and spent your adolescence. What has been the best part, the worst part, and the biggest surprise about living in Singapore again?
Reverse culture shock has been hitting me hard, living back in Southeast Asia. It’s been a little over two years now and I still go through culture shock every single day I am here. Singapore has changed so much in the 2000s. I barely recognized the country when I returned. The biggest surprise is how expensive it’s gotten to live here. The cost of living has gone up tremendously!

I know one of the things you’ve been doing in Singapore is teaching dance. Please tell us where prospective students can find your classes.
Yes, I’ve been teaching at multiple locations around the island. The best way to learn more is to join my mailing list by sending me an email at ahdancecompany@gmail.com and/or join my Facebook group.

Thanks, Alaine! Readers, here is a tiny taste of what you might see in Laura Lamp’s short documentary, the trailer created last year for Habitat:

Questions or comments for Alaine? Be sure to leave them in the comments section!

STAY TUNED for Thursday’s fab post.

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Why did the chicken cross an international border? Because this expat told it to!

sharon lorimer chicken hat

Sharon Lorimer graces the cover of Coop du Monde sporting a chicken hat; photo credit: Kim Khan.

Sharon Lorimer is joining us again today. Last time she and I met, she had on her entrepreneurial hat to tell me about the ingredients she used to start up her company, doshebu. We discussed the company’s mission of helping overseas employees become versed in the “art” of being an expat—her knowledge of which is based, in no small part, on her own experience of being a Scottish expat in New York City and of her husband’s experience as an American ATCK (he has lived in London and Singapore).

This time around, however, Sharon is sporting a chicken hat. Why is that, you may wonder? For the simple reason that she has her eggs in more than one basket. She may be a businesswoman but she also loves cooking. She self-published a photo cookbook named Coop Du Monde at the end of last year, which offers suggestions for jazzing up your basic roast chicken recipe ranging from Pilgrim’s Fowl to Nippon Coop to Mi Amore Coop.

And just now she put out The Seasoner’s Handbook, a companion to her very first cookbook, From the Global Scottish Kitchen, in which she reinvented dishes from her native Scotland by adding flavors picked up from her “gastronomic journey.”

Cock a’ Leekie Udon, anyone?

Sharon’s culinary creativity will be our topic today. She tells me that she has always enjoyed experimenting with food, but by now it should be clear that flying the Scottish coop has pushed her in some new directions.

* * *

CoopduMonde_cover_dropshadowHi, Sharon. Welcome back to the Displaced Nation! Tell me, why did you decide to write a book about roast chicken?
I think it grew out of my fondness for the Sunday Roast ritual in the UK. Even when I was growing up in Scotland, I always preferred to spice it up. But since coming to the United States and leading a more international life, I’ve taken these experiments up a level.

But why chicken? When I lived in Britain, I remember having a lot of lamb and beef.
Well, chicken is probably the most popular for the home cook and besides, it’s eaten all over the world.

I’ve had a look at your book and I’m impressed that it offers a step-by-step guide to roasting a chicken and then suggesting a number of variations.
In fact, the point of the book is not so much to give people recipes as to help them be creative when they cook. I explain the process of blending spices and herbs together and choosing vegetables so that you can invent your own Coop du Monde.
TheSeasoner'sHandbook_cover_dropshadow

Which came first, spices or travels?

You seem to be obsessed with spices. In your newest book, The Seasoner’s Handbook, you explain how to use chili peppers, pomegranate seeds, saffron, mole, truffles…
These are some of the flavors I’ve picked up on my gastronomic journey. Take the pomegranate seed, for instance. I first had a dish seasoned with this fruit in London. As I explain in the book, I hadn’t tasted it before but it made the meal so enjoyable that I thought about how I could use it in other dishes. It has a mellow flavor that combines well with stronger and more subtle flavors.

Your Scottish cookbook, to which this book is a companion, reinterprets your native cuisine in light of what you have learned about the cuisines of the US, Mexico, France, Japan and Greece. In a post discussing the book on your blog, you say:

If I had created a cookbook that represented my travels, the contents would be traditional dishes made authentically. Thinking globally about taste lets you use different aspects of cuisines to develop new ideas.

It sounds as though you’re making a case for fusion cuisine, but is that right?
Cuisines are identified by nationality, and fusion means blending two national cuisines. I want people to understand that it’s less about replicating other people’s cuisines, or competing to be the best at a style of cuisine, and more about exploring what you like. Lots of us expats want to find ways of expressing all the influences we’ve picked up on our travels. What better way to blend them than in cooking?

“Ain’t nobody here but us chickens” – Louis Jordan

How big a role does cooking play in your everyday life?
My husband and I make very simple food during the week. He is a good cook, too, and we take turns cooking for each other. One thing that makes it on to the table every month is Anthony Bourdain’s recipe for whole roasted fish Tuscan style, which essentially means baking it in salt. Bourdain just talks about it in his book Kitchen Confidential. We tried replicating it from the description. It’s really easy. You just stuff herbs, garlic and lemon it to the belly of the fish. Pour olive oil on the fish and encrust in lots of Kosher salt and bake for 45-60 minutes at 375°F.

Mmmm…sounds good. Fish has been one of my staples ever since I lived in Japan.
Well, don’t overlook the beauty of chicken. My new favorite easy meal is a Cook Yourself Thin recipe for butterflied chicken breast marinated in olive oil, rosemary and lemon juice. It only takes 30 minutes to marinate and 10 minutes on the grill. Delicious.

Struttin’ her stuff on Blurb

Moving back to the two books: Why did you choose to publish them on Blurb?
Blurb makes self-publishing easy, and it’s ideal for coffee-table-style books that feature photography.

Yes, I know you’re a keen photographer, but was there a learning curve for taking photos of food?
I’m a professional photographer, but there’s a learning curve with any new project. The most important thing to remember when you start to make books is that printers need higher-resolution shots than websites. You have to print a hard copy with Blurb, even if you don’t want to sell it. Make the shots good enough so that you can display it in your home or give it to family and friends. The other thing I had to learn is that I have to shoot with the book in mind. I had some old chicken shots I wanted to use for the Coop du Monde, but the resolution was wrong and they looked out of place. In the end we had to work from the concept to create a cohesive book. In fact, my husband shot the front and back covers.

I see you’re getting into video more and more these days, and that Coop du Monde includes a teaching video.
I always find it easier to replicate a recipe if I have watched someone else do it first, don’t you? Yes, the video is embedded in the ebook.

What’s the biggest challenge in putting together a cookbook?
My biggest challenge is writing down recipes. I cooked for years without documenting any of it and even today, I still forget to write down what I’ve done. I have an app but it hasn’t really helped me solve the problem. I never cook to a recipe and I don’t really want to. It spoils the experience for me.

What audience do you have in mind for your photo cookbooks, and are they reaching those people?
The most popular post ever on the Art of the Expat blog is “Indian Meat and Potatoes” (it centers on a keema recipe that’s from From the Global Scottish Kitchen, which, believe it or not given that keema is Indian, includes pomegranates!). Food tends to be more accessible than other topics. People are always looking for ways to incorporate and understand other nations’ cuisines, especially ones they usually can’t have unless they eat out. I thought the Brits would like Coop du Monde because of their love of roast chicken, but most visitors to my blog are Americans. More recently, we’ve had a lot of Swedish visitors…but presumably they are also fans of chicken.

What’s next—more cookbooks? Other creative projects?
My husband and I are planning lots more live broadcasts at doshebu.tv focusing on news events and expat topics. On the creative side, I’ve started to write another screenplay. I think this will give me the outlet for creativity that I need when I get depressed about troubleshooting code!

* * *

Thank you, Sharon! Readers, don’t be too chicken to leave questions or comments for Sharon. Or perhaps you’d like to suggest a roast chicken recipe that you’ve enhanced with spices or other exotic ingredients? Just think, if Sharon were to include it in her next Blurb book, what a coup it would be…

STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts!

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2013 Holiday Special: Notable books for, by and about expats

Looking for last-minute gifts—or have your holiday celebrations brought you to the point where you might need an escape for yourself?

In the tradition of looking back at the past year’s highlights, I present, on behalf of the Displaced Nation team, a list of books for, by, and about expats that were featured in some way on this site in 2013.

Click on the category that interests you:

  1. FICTION
  2. MEMOIRS
  3. HANDBOOKS & GUIDEBOOKS
  4. COOKBOOK (singular because we have only one!)
  • Books in each category are arranged from most to least recent.
  • Unless otherwise noted, books are self-published.

Go on, download a few! It’s the time of the year to be generous to one’s fellow human beings. That said, on the Displaced Nation it’s always the season to support the creative output of those who’ve embraced the life of global residency and travel.

* * *

Fiction

Shemlan Ebook_coverShemlan: A Deadly Tragedy (November 2013)
Author: Alexander McNabb
Genre: International thriller
Synopsis: The third in McNabb’s Levant Cycle, Shemlan tells the story of a retired British foreign service officer who, dying from cancer, returns to Beirut in hopes of meeting the Lebanese love of his youth one last time. But then his past catches up with him, threatening to do him in before the disease does—until British spy Gerald Lynch gallops to the rescue…
Expat credentials: Born in London, McNabb has lived in the Middle East for more than a quarter century. He often receives praise for getting the historical and cultural details right in his books.
How we heard about: We encountered McNabb a year ago when we were doing a series of food posts! We love his books and are giving away Shemlan this month, as well as doing an offer for Displaced Dispatch subscribers on all three books in the cycle. Check it out!

ImperfectPairings_cover_pmImperfect Pairings (May 2013)
Author: Jackie Townsend
Genre: Women’s fiction
Synopsis: American career woman Jamie had not intended to fall in love—and to a foreigner no less, a man who tells her his name is Jack, short for John, but it’s really short for Giovanni. Insanely handsome and intense but unreadable, Giovanni has left a complicated family life back home in Italy. Is this more than Jamie signed up for?
Displaced credentials: In real life, Townsend is married to an Italian and has spent 16 years backing and forthing to her husband’s family in Italy.
How we heard about: ML Awanohara, who rightly or wrongly considers herself something of an expert on cross-cultural marriage, read the book on her Kindle and was so impressed with its depiction of cross-cultural relationship woes that she asked Townsend to be our featured author of November. Read the interview.

SuiteDubai-cover_dropshadowSuite Dubai (April 2013)
Author: Callista Fox
Genre: “New adult” lit
Synopsis: As Callista tells it, the book grew out of a story that entered her head that wouldn’t go away: “There was this girl, young, vulnerable, naive, walking along a concourse in an airport, among men in white robes and checkered scarves and woman in black gauzy material. Where was she going? What would happen to her there?”
Expat credentials: Fox moved to Saudi Arabia when she was eight and lived there off and on until turning 19. She went to boarding schools in Cyprus and Austria. Now back in the United States, she thinks of herself as an adult Third Culture Kid, or TCK.
How we heard about: Noticing our fondness for serial fiction (see Kate Allison’s book below), Fox sent us a note saying she’d written a serial novel reflecting her experience of growing up in the Middle East. We responded by asking if we could publish her series in even smaller parts. Part 1 and Part 2 have already gone up, and there are six more parts to come in 2014. Warning: Highly addictive!

Libby'sLifeTakingFlight_coverLibby’s Life: Taking Flight (April 2013)
Author: Kate Allison
Genre: Women’s fiction
Synopsis: 30-something Libby Patrick is just regaining some post-baby control over her life when a change in husband’s job means they must move from their English home to Woodhaven, a town in rural Massachusetts. The book is Libby’s journal covering the first year of her life as trailing spouse.
Expat credentials: Born and raised in Britain, Kate has lived in the United States with her family for almost two decades.
How we heard about: We were the first to know! Kate is a founding member of the Displaced Nation and has been publishing regular episodes of Libby’s Life (on which the book is based) since the blog began. She has accrued countless fans, the most faithful of whom is Janice. (Libby to Janice: xoxo for your support in 2013!)

APlaceintheWorld_coverA Place in the World (March 2013)
Author: Cinda Crabbe MacKinnon
Genre: Romance
Synopsis: Third Culture Kid Alicia meets a young Colombian man at college in the United States. She follows him to Bogotá and the pair end up marrying and settling on his family’s remote coffee finca (farm) in the Andes. Educated as a biologist, Alicia revels in the surrounding cloud-forest. But then her idyllic life starts to unravel…
Expat credentials: Crabbe MacKinnon grew up in several countries as a military brat and diplomatic kid and, though she has since repatriated to the United States, still thinks of Latin America as home.
How we heard about: Crabbe MacKinnon commented on one of Elizabeth Liang’s “TCK Talent” posts and ended up becoming October’s featured author. Read the interview. We love her and her work, and are sure you will, too!

CoffeeandVodka_coverCoffee and Vodka (March 2013)
Author: Helena Halme
Genre: Women’s fiction
Synopsis: A Finnish family emigrate to Sweden in the 1970s and find themselves in turmoil, caused partly by the displacement, but also by the cracks in family dynamics. At its heart, the book reveals what it is like for a young girl to be uprooted and transplanted to a country where she doesn’t speak the language and is despised for her nationality.
Expat credentials: Halme grew up in Tampere, central Finland, and moved to Britain at the age of 22 via Stockholm and Helsinki, after marrying “The Englishman” (how she always refers to him on her blog, Helena’s London Life). She spent her first ten years in Britain working as journalist and translator for the BBC. She and The Englishman now live in North London.
How we heard about: Halme is a big favorite of ours! She was one of our earliest Random Nomads as well as serving as an expat style icon back in the days when we covered fashion. More recently, Kate Allison reviewed Halme’s first book: The Englishman: Can Love Go the Distance?, and we did a giveaway of Coffee and Vodka. And that’s not all: Halme’s latest book, The Red King of Helsinki, received an “Alice” Award in July. (As noted then, the Alices could hardly ignore a book of that title!)

MonkeyLoveAndMurder_dropshadowMonkey Love and Murder (February 2013)
Author: Edith McClinton
Genre: Adventure mystery
Synopsis: A jungle environment in Suriname (spider monkeys and all) is the setting for a closed-door mystery surrounding the death of the renowned director of the International Wildlife Conservation followed by the machete murder of one of the researchers. None of this bodes well for poor Emma Parks, who has joined the research project on a whim. (So much for that budding primatologist career!)
Expat credentials: MacClintock volunteered for the Peace Corps in Suriname for two years, and joined a monkey research project afterwards.
How we heard about: One of our Random Nomads, Patricia Winton, referred us to the now-defunct blog Novel Adventurers, where Edith was one of the writers. We invited her to guest blog for us about the muses behind her monkey mystery.

ArchangelofMercy_dropshadowArchangel of Mercy (Berkley – Penguin Group, December 2012)
Author: Christina Ashcroft
Genre: Paranormal romance
Synopsis: The first storyline in Ashcroft’s new series focusing on a group of angels and archangels and the lives of the people they come in contact with every day.
Expat credentials: Ashcroft is an expat Brit who now lives in Western Australia with her high school sweetheart and their three children.
How we heard about it: We encountered Christina online and asked her to be one of our Random Nomads for a Valentine’s Day special. In that interview, she said she attributes her success as a writer at least in part to her expat status: “I’ve often wondered whether my career would have followed the same route if we’d stayed in the UK. While I’ve always loved writing it wasn’t until we moved to Australia that I decided to to write with the aim of publication.”

SpiritofLostAngels_dropshadowSpirit of Lost Angels (May 2012)
Author: Liza Perrat
Genre: Historical novel
Synopsis: Set against a backdrop of rural France during the French Revolution, the story centers on Victoire Charpentier, a young peasant woman whose mother was executed for witchcraft and who herself suffers abuse at the hands of a nobleman. Can she muster the bravery and skill to join the revolutionary force gripping France, and overthrow the corrupt aristocracy?
Expat credentials: Liza grew up in Wollongong, Australia, where she worked as a general nurse and midwife for fifteen years. When she met her French husband on a Bangkok bus, she moved to France, where she has been living with her husband and three children for twenty years.
How we heard about: The redoubtable JJ Marsh (see below) interviewed Perrat on writing a location to life, for her monthly column, “Location, Locution.”

BehindClosedDoors_dropshadowBehind Closed Doors (June 2012)
Author: JJ Marsh
Genre: Crime mixed with literary fiction
Synopsis: A smart, technologically sophisticated mystery set in Zürich and surrounding countries, featuring a bipolar detective named Beatrice Stubbs, and quite a few surprises… NOTE: JJ Marsh was listed in the Guardian “readers’ recommended self-published authors” this year, for Behind Closed Doors.
Expat credentials: JJ Marsh grew up in Wales, Africa and the Middle East, where her curiosity for culture took root and triggered an urge to write. After living in Hong Kong, Nigeria, Dubai, Portugal and France, she has finally settled in Switzerland.
How we heard about: We owe displaced author Helena Halme (see above) a king’s ransom for telling us about JJ, who since April has been contributing a monthly “Location, Locution” column. Don’t miss her posts under any circumstances! Highly stimulating and cerebral.

snowdrops_dropshadowSnowdrops (Anchor/Random House, February 2011)
Author: AD Miller
Genre: Literary fiction
Synopsis: Lawyer Nick Platt trades his dull British life for pushing paper in Moscow at the turn of the 21st century. He is soon seduced by a culture he fancies himself above. Snowdrops was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2011.
Expat credentials: British born and educated at Cambridge and Princeton, Andrew Miller joined The Economist and was appointed, in 2004, to become their Moscow correspondent. He covered, among other things, the Orange Revolution in the Ukraine.
How we heard about: JJ Marsh interviewed AD this past July about bringing foreign locations to life in fiction.

odessa_brit_cover_smallMoonlight in Odessa (Bloomsbury, August 2010)
Author: Janet Skeslien Charles
Genre: Women’s fiction
Synopsis: With an engineering degree and perfect English, Daria longs for a life beyond Odessa, Ukraine. And then she moonlights for a dating agency that facilitates hasty, long-distance matches between lustful American men and impoverished Ukrainian women. Her big chance?
Expat credentials: Skeslien Charles went to Odessa, Ukraine, as a Soros Fellow, living through blackouts, heatless winters, corruption and so on. She stayed for two years before returning to the U.S. Then she found a job in France and met her husband. She now lives in Paris but leads a multicultural life. As she puts it: “The novel is set in Odessa, Ukraine. My agent is English. My editor’s assistant is Japanese-Danish, my copy editor is from New Zealand. I’m American. The book was written in France and typeset in Scotland. My first fan letter came from a Swede.”
How we heard about: JJ Marsh picked Skeslien Charles’s brain on “location, locution”, in her November column.

Memoirs

AddictedtoLove_cover_dropshadowAddicted to Love (April 2013)
Author: Lana Penrose
Synopsis: Penrose is the kind of Australian who throws herself wholeheartedly into adventure, which is why her years spend living in Europe have merited not one but three memoirs! This one is the third. In the first memoir (published by Penguin/Viking), To Hellas and Back, she marries the love of her life, an Australian Greek, and accompanies him back to Greece, only to find him becoming increasingly Greek and herself increasingly isolated. In the second, Kickstart My Heart, she moves to London, single and desperate to find love again. And in this third memoir, she returns to Greece, where she encounters a seemingly perfect man named Adonis. (Hey, she never gives up!)
Expat credentials: From Sydney originally (she is back there now), Penrose lived in Athens for five years before moving to London.
How we heard about it: We happened across Penrose online and asked her to guest-post for us a year ago on what it was like to spend Christmas in Greece. At that time, we also did a giveaway of her first memoir. We invited her back this past April to write about Addicted to Love.

MagicCarpetSeduction_cover_pmMagic Carpet Seduction: Travel Tales Off the Beaten Path (May 2013)
Author: Lisa Egle
Synopsis: Travel with the author to China, Latin America, Turkey and the Middle East, and watch while she takes risks off the beaten path, and dances with strangers in strange lands…
Expat credentials: Egle characterizes herself as a lover of offbeat travel. She’s been to 36 countries on five continents and has been an expat twice: in Ecuador for a year and half, and in Spain for a year.
How we heard about: We got to know Egle first through her blog, Chicky Bus, and when we heard she’d put out a book, asked her to be one of our featured authors. Read the interview.

Pilgrimage-Cover_pmRunning the Shikoku Pilgrimage: 900 Miles to Enlightenment (Volcano Press, January 2013)
Author: Amy Chavez
Synopsis: After losing her job at a Japanese university, Chavez undertakes a solo journey running Japan’s 900-mile Buddhist pilgrimage, a distance equal to running from San Diego, California to Oregon. A Buddhist priest who is also a friend gives her “cosmic tools” to take with her.
Expat credentials: American expat Amy Chavez has been a columnist for Japan’s oldest English-language newspaper, The Japan Times, since 1997. She lives with her husband and cat on Shiraishi Island in Japan’s Seto Inland Sea.
How we heard about: We interviewed Chavez about her pilgrimage, and what it took to write the book, in April.

Don'tNeedtheWholeDog_dropshadowDon’t Need the Whole Dog! (December 2012)
Author: Tony James Slater
Synopsis: In the summer of 2004, Slater went to Ecuador, thinking that the experience would turn him into a man. He went back to his native England fueled by a burning desire to do something that mattered—and, ideally, to get the heck out of England in the process. He dreamed of going to Thailand and becoming a professional diver. This is the story of what happened next.
Expat credentials: A Brit, Slater now lives in Perth, Australia, with his Australian wife.
How we heard about: Slater made himself known to us for failing to include his first book, The Bear That Ate My Pants: Adventures of a Real Idiot Abroad, about his time volunteering at an animal shelter in Ecuador, in our 2011 holiday round-up. He probably should have left well enough alone, though, as next thing he knew, we had him writing for the Displaced Nation. His post on the world’s best parties remains one of our most popular!

TruckinginEnglish-dropshadowTrucking in English (December 2012)
Author: Carolyn Steele
Synopsis: This is the tale of what happens when a middle-aged mum from England decides to actually drive 18-wheelers across North America instead of just dreaming about it. Nothing goes well, but that’s why there’s a book.
Expat credentials: Born and bred in London, Carolyn and her son are now Canadian citizens and live permanently in Kitchener, Ontario.
How we heard about: One of our featured authors in 2012, Martin Crosbie, sent Steele our way, and Kate Allison reviewed her book in March. Steele later contributed an amusing post to our “New vs Olde World” series, about the difficulties of mastering the Canadian “R”.

Finding-Rome-on-the-Map-of-Love_dropshadowFinding Rome on the Map of Love (September 2012)
Author: Estelle Jobson
Synopsis: When her Italian diplomat boyfriend gets posted to Rome, Jobson throws up her career in publishing in her native South Africa to accompany him. There, she reinvents herself as Signora Stella, a casalinga (housewife). The book captures a year’s worth of quirky observations about life amongst the Italians.
Expat credentials: Originally from South Africa, Jobson now lives in Geneva, where she works as a writer and editor.
How we heard about: Jobson was our featured author in February. Her book and sense of humor are terrific!

Travels with George Book CoverTravels with George: A Memoir Through the Italy of My Childhood (April 2012)
Author: Olga Vannucci
Synopsis: In five separate trips to Italy with her young son, George, in tow, Vannucci strolls and hikes through the landscapes of her Italian childhood. She looks at Italy both as local native and awed visitor.
Expat credentials: Born in Italy, Vannucci lived in Brazil and came to the United States to attend Brown University. She lives in rural New Jersey with her son.
How we heard about: Vannucci was our featured author in September. Read the interview. We loved this quote from her son: “Where are we going? How much longer? I have something in my shoe. I want to go back. Why are we doing this? Do you know where we are? Do you know where we’re going? Mammaaaaaaa!”

AreWeThereYet_cover_dropshadowAre We There Yet? Travels with My Frontline Family (May 2009)
Author: Rosie Whitehouse
Synopsis: A vivid, funny, and very human account of the author’s travels with her family through war-torn Europe.
Expat credentials: Whitehouse spent five years as a housewife in the war-torn Balkans married to a correspondent of The Economist, caring for their growing family.
How we heard about: We happened across Whitehouse’s work online and asked her to be a featured author last summer. Read the interview. She’s absolutely fascinating, as one might expect of the kind of woman who trails her spouse into a war zone.

HoneyfromtheLion_coverHoney from the Lion: An African Journey (Dutton Adult, 1988)
Author: Wendy Laura Belcher
Synopsis: Brought up in Africa, Belcher returned to Ghana in the early 1980s to work with a “national linguistic group” that is spreading literary into rural areas by translating the Bible into native languages. A coming-of-age story that was called “lyrical” by the New York Times when first issued.
Expat credentials: An adult Third Culture Kid, Belcher grew up in East and West Africa, where she became fascinated with the richness of Ghanaian and Ethiopian intellectual traditions. She is now an assistant professor of African literature at Princeton.
How we heard about: Elizabeth Liang interviewed Belcher for her TCK Talent series.

Handbooks & Guidebooks

cathy_feign_coverKeep Your Life, Family and Career Intact While Living Abroad, 3rd Ed. (Stvdio Media, September 2013)
Author: Cathy Tsang-Feign
Synopsis: A survival manual for those who are living abroad, with real-life examples and easy-to-understand explanations about the unique issues faced by expats: from preparing to move, to daily life overseas, to returning home.
Expat credentials: Tsang-Feign is an American psychologist who lives in Hong Kong, specializing in expat psychology and adjustment issues. She has also lived in London.
How we heard about: When Kate Allison learned about the book, she decided it merited one of our “Alice” awards for the understanding displayed of the “through the looking glass” complex.

realitycheck_bookcoverReality Check: Life in Brazil through the eyes of a foreigner (September 2013)
Author: Mark Hillary
Synopsis: Targeted at those who plan on living, working or just visiting Brazil, it covers issues such as the difficulties of finding new friends, using a new language, and finding a job. Also provided is some background on the fast-changing society in Brazil that resulted in extensive street protests during 2013.
Expat credentials: Hillary is a British writer who moved to Brazil in 2010, bought a home, started a company, and has experienced both difficulties and joys.
How we heard about it: Andy Martin, another Brit in Brazil and a writer for the Displaced Nation in 2013, is a friend of Hillary’s and was jealous he’d produced a book that is not only a practical guide but also provides much of the cultural backdrop an international resident needs for a country as complex as Brazil. The next best thing, Martin thought, would be to do an interview with Hillary, which he delivered in two parts. Read Part 1 and Part 2.

TERE_cover_dropshadowThe Emotionally Resilient Expat: Engage, Adapt and Thrive Across Cultures (Summertime, July 2013)
Author: Linda A. Janssen
Synopsis: A guide for those facing the challenge of cross-cultural living, with candid personal stories from experienced expats and cross-culturals, and a wealth of practical tools, techniques and best practices for developing the emotional resilience for ensuring a successful transition.
Expat credentials: Janssen lived for several years in the Netherlands while her husband, an adult TCK, worked in the Hague. She recently repatriated to the United States.
How we heard about: We’ve had many satisfying interactions with Janssen since starting the Displaced Nation and were thrilled to hear about her new book—a natural for one of this year’s “Alice” awards, particularly as Janssen has been running a popular blog called Adventures in Expatland.

AmericanExbratinSaoPaulo_cover_pmAn American Exbrat in São Paulo: Advice, Stories, Tips and Tricks for Surviving South America’s Largest City (May 2013)
Author: Maggie Foxhole (Megan Farrell)
Synopsis: Aimed at those who are moving or traveling to São Paulo, it is designed to be a companion on the journey through the ups and down, ins and outs, and the curious roundabouts of life in that city.
Expat credentials: Megan/Maggie moved to Brazil with her Brazilian husband and their daughter. She keeps a blog: Born Again Brazilian.
How we heard about: Farrell/Foxhole was one of our early Random Nomads. She kept in touch and we were very pleased to learn about her book, which ML Awanohara read and admired for its comprehensiveness. Andy Martin, a Brit who also lives in São Paulo with a Brazilian spouse, reviewed the book for our site this past July.

101reasons_dropshadow101 Reasons to Live Abroad and 100 Reasons Not to (March 2013)
Author: Chris Alden
Synopsis: Targeted at the wannabe expat, the aim is to help you discover if living abroad is right for you. It’s an uplifting guide to the positive sides of life as an expatriate and a reality check about the challenges that relocation brings.
Expat credentials: A professional writer, Alden lived for three years in a beautiful village in the Troodos foothills of Cyprus, which resulted in his first travel guidebook: 250 Things to Do in Cyprus on a Sunny Day.
How we heard about: Alden was the recipient of one our “Alice” awards for this book. We were impressed that he offered a final, 101st reason to live abroad for those of us who, having been offered as many as a hundred reasons both for and against, still find ourselves dithering…

career-break-travelers-handbook_dropshadowThe Career Break Traveler’s Handbook (September 2012)
Author: Jeffrey Jung
Synopsis: Intended to inspire people to go for it and take the break they’ve been seeking from their jobs and go travel, with tips and tricks Jung learned from his own and other career breakers’ experiences.
Expat credentials: Having left the corporate ladder, Jung now lives in Colombia, where he founded his own business to help others do the same: CareerBreakSecrets.com.
How we heard about: Jung was one of our Random Nomads. He let us know about his book, and we reviewed it this past February. Not that he needed our help—it also got a shout-out in Forbes!

finding-your-feet-in-chicago-3D-Book CoverFinding Your Feet in Chicago: The Essential Guide for Expat Families (Summertime Publishing, August 2012)
Author: Véronique Martin-Place
Synopsis: A down-to-earth pocket guide to help expats settle into the USA’s third largest city with their families.
Expat credentials: As the wife of a French diplomat (they have two daughters), Martin-Place is accustomed to moving around the world. Chicago was one of her more enjoyable stops, but she also enjoyed Sri Lanka(!). The family is now in Shanghai.
How we heard about: ML Awanohara had interviewed Martin-Place on her blog, Seeing the Elephant. She had fun interviewing her again, this time about the process of composing a guidebook.

Cookbook

FromtheGlobalScottishKitchen_cover_tdnFrom the Global Scottish Kitchen (Self-published, November 2012)
Author: Sharon Lorimer
Genre: Cooking
Synopsis: Recipes based on Scottish cuisine but influenced by the restaurants and other kinds of cuisines Lorimer has experienced as an expat: e.g., Cock a’ Leekie Udon!
Expat credentials: Born in Scotland, Lorimer now lives in New York City and is married to an Asian American.
How we heard about it: We interviewed Lorimer about her decision to start up Doshebu, a business providing training to company employees being sent abroad on the “art” of being an expat.

* * *

Questions: Have you read any of the above works and if so, what did you think of them? And can you suggest other works to add to the list? My colleagues and I look forward to reading your comments below!

STAY TUNED for some upcoming posts, though we’ll be taking a bit of a break over the holidays!

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Talking to Sharon Lorimer about starting up a business on the art of being an expat

Sharon Lorimer CollageAnyone who has been an expat has probably thought about, at some time or another, starting up a business to help ease other expats into the notion that they are now international residents. But how many of us have the knowhow and the guts to act on these thoughts?

Sharon Lorimer, a Scot who lives in New York City with her American husband, did not think of herself as having an entrepreneurial mindset until she went to business school. One thing led to another, and almost before she knew it, she’d founded doshebu, a business providing services to various kinds of clients looking to go global.

Now let’s meet Sharon and talk to her about this turn of events in her life. We know that the force of love took her to New York, but what swept her down the path of launching her own business venture?

* * *

Hi, Sharon! It’s always good to talk to a fellow New Yorker, especially a displaced one! What brought you here from Scotland originally?
I fell in love with an American. After a long-distance love affair, we had to have the big talk about where we wanted to live. We were both just out of school and thought there would be more opportunities in New York than in our hometowns of Edinburgh (mine) or DC (his). So I came to New York to get married.

What was the first chapter of your life in the Big Apple?
We joined the dotcom boom: I worked for an Internet advertising agency, and my husband, Kim Khan, has done a variety of jobs, including establishing a bureau for CNBC.com in London. We were in our late 20s and had a vibrant, creative life, with lots of international friends. But then came the dotcom bust, and we started to reassess our lives and the extent to which the dotcom model aligned with our values. I searched for the right business for me but couldn’t find a fit. In 2004, I decided to get an MBA and after graduation in 2008 I started doshebu.

What kinds of services does doshebu offer?
While still in business school, I conducted primary research in International Human Resource Management. The services doshebu provides—to corporate leaders, individuals and families, businesses (human resource units), governments and NGOs, and importers/exporters looking to go global—are based on the gaps I identified in the market. I’ve designed an individual program for each market sector. Expats who are interested can find more information on our Services page. And our online learning site has lots of free resources. We want to build a community there and are continually adding information that you can access for free.

You’ve been out of Scotland for some time. Do you ever feel “displaced”?
I feel most displaced in the places where I’m supposed to be feeling most at home. I find it tough to relate to people who don’t have similar life experiences. Sometimes other Scots don’t even believe I’m Scottish. How do you convince someone you’re not pulling their leg and are actually from the same place as them?

Do you feel more comfortable abroad than in the UK?
Usually when I strike up a conversation with someone who’s traveling the world or living abroad, I find we have lots in common. My husband is the same way. If we encounter foreign tourists in the city, we always want to tell them about really cool places to go and the history behind those places.

Expats as “warriors”

Where did your idea for “doshebu” come from?
Doshebu is an expression of my life experience. When I first moved abroad, I had no idea of how difficult it would be. I packed my suitcase, got my flight, and turned up at my fiancé’s house. It took me a while to realize how unprepared I had been. While I didn’t think of myself as an immigrant, I experienced the loss of status that immigration causes. Lots of expats approach international assignments in that way. Whenever I reach out to talk to others, I can see there is a lot of work to do to help us all understand what moving abroad has done to our lives. These days, I like to think of myself as a pioneer and imagine myself living in a “boundaryless” world, where people live where they want and do what they feel is meaningful to them.

I understand the name for the business is based on the Japanese samarai moral code, Bushidō?
Kim is a black belt in the martial arts. Both of us have experienced the trauma of moving countries (Kim is from Virginia originally but has lived and worked in the UK and Singapore), and we think that living abroad requires something of a warrior mindset. While most people anticipate having a change in lifestyle, they are unprepared for the idea that not everything will be straightforward. For instance, some locals may not appreciate you or your values. Warriors are trained to go into hostile situations, and doshebu’s products address that possibility by educating you and discussing methods of coping. Thus the “way of the warrior” has become the “art of the expat.”

Was opening up your own business something you always wanted to do?
No, I was totally daunted. Although I’d witnessed my grandmother and mother start businesses, and admired them for that, I always shied away from taking that kind of responsibility. But now I feel the desire to build something of my own that wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for my efforts and dedication.

What has been the biggest challenge?
There are two main challenges I face:
1. Limited resources. It’s always tough no matter how big the company is, but it’s really tough when you’re a start-up.
2. Motivation. When you have to motivate yourself and there isn’t a reward at the end of the day, it’s tough to figure out how to keep going. I have to keep reminding myself of how far the company has come—it is no longer a research project but a living company; and I dream of a future when other people think it’s a great company, too.

Expats as artists

The most fulfilling aspect?
Doshebu is an Internet business and there is a lot of technical work behind the scenes. But we called it the “art of the expat” because we find that people who go abroad tend to become more creative and have more diverse interests. I enjoy trying to foster a sense of this in our clients and their families. It can be an advantage to their companies—for instance, if they make a more creative presentation on their work; but it can also be about one’s personal journey, connecting you with your creativity.

If you could do anything else, what would it be?
I’d love to make movies. I wrote a screenplay a while back, and as a photographer and writer, I love movies.

FromtheGlobalScottishKitchen_cover_tdnI see that you’ve created some cookbooks and photobooks under the Art of the Expat brand. My favorite is The Global Scottish Kitchen, with recipes for things like Cock A’ Leekie Udon.
Yes, my next book will also be a cookbook, called Coop du Monde. It’s a step-by-step guide to spicing up the traditional British Sunday Roast. It’s also about helping you be creative in the kitchen by explaining how to experiment with flavors.

In addition, I’m working on another photography book—about graffiti. I want to explore the idea of street art, the photographer and the graffiti artist as being the same person.

You can check out my various books on Blurb.

What’s on your bucket list?
I want to buy a small island and build a house on it. I like the idea of being able to build an environmentally-friendly house. But we’d have to have liquor—Kim and I have also written a book about home-style cocktails, based on our world travels and conversations with bartenders, bon vivants and drinkers. AliasNickandNorasHomestyleCocktails_cover_tdnHmmm…maybe I could sell moonshine in the local market?

* * *

Ah, said like a true entrepreneur, Sharon! Thanks so much for talking to me about your work. I must say, I find your take on “going global” truly refreshing. Readers, any questions for Sharon on what it’s like to be an expat doing a business on behalf of other expats? Fire away! Or if you want to recommend a home-style cocktail for her collection, I’m sure she’d appreciate that, too. For that matter, aren’t cocktails part of the recipe for a successful expat adventure?!

STAY TUNED for the next episode in the online expat novel, Libby’s Life, to appear tomorrow.

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Images (clockwise from left): Sharon trying out her Bushidō technique(?!) outside of Gaudí’s cathedral in Barcelona; being a tourist in Venice; enjoying a stein of beer at the Oktoberfest in Munich (on the cover of her photography book Oktoberfest); and how the table looked for her and Kim’s 10th-anniversary celebration (note the tartan tablecloth!).

TCK TALENT: Alaine Handa choreographs her way to festivals in Toronto and now Edinburgh (2/2)

Habitat CollageNew columnist Elizabeth (Lisa) Liang continues her conversation with fellow TCK performing artist Alaine Handa. (Be sure to check out Part 1 if you haven’t already.)

—ML Awanohara

Hi, everyone! Yesterday, I talked to Alaine Handa about her Third Culture Kid background and what led her to produce her first international touring show, Chameleon. Today we’ll finish up our Chameleon conversation and move on to talking about Alaine’s brand new show, Habitat, which is having its world premiere at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. (If you happen to be in Edinburgh, scroll down to the bottom of this post for details.)

* * *

Act 2: Chameleon, continued…

Welcome back, Alaine. I can relate to so much of what you said about Chameleon. The creative/rehearsal process can be so fulfilling that the performance itself is often the icing on the cake for the performer-creator. Whom did you have in mind for the wider audience?
As a proud TCK and Global Citizen, I felt the stories of TCKs needed to have a voice that supports all the research, books, blogs, and memoirs that have been written on our lives—yet can transcend boundaries of spoken language through dance and movement, something all cultures can understand. Perhaps my ideas were grandiose, but I really hoped that productions of Chameleon would touch the lives of all those who identify with living cross-culturally and existing as cultural mixes.

It sounds as though Chameleon provided a voice for a cross-section of nomadic, mixed-heritage, intercultural people, not to mention everyone who has ever felt unheard or unseen—which is everyone at some point in their lives. I did the same with Alien Citizen and am wondering if we should create a TCK festival for performing artists like us… But, back to you! How was the performance received?
Every single performance of Chameleon had at least one person in tears because they identified so much with it. After each performance, we spent quite a lot of time talking to audience members. I made a lot of new friends around the world!

Were there any surprises?
The biggest surprise for me came from the TCK student performance at Utahloy International School, in Guangzhou. The students were very receptive and open to sharing their TCK stories with me, as well as on stage. It brought tears to my eyes.

Did you learn anything about yourself in the process?
By telling my story and other TCK/CCK stories, not only did I come to understand myself better, but I also felt a strong sense of community among the globally mobile citizens of the world.

Act 3: Preparing a new show, Habitat, for the Edinburgh Fringe

And now you have a new show, Habitat. Is this your first time at the Edinburgh Fringe?
Yes! We are very excited. One of my dancers has performed in the Fringe before so he will be super helpful during the festival.

In your promotional materials for Habitat, you have the following statement:


Our personal space is the environment in which we confine ourselves to become our truest selves.


Can you explain?
As a TCK, I am constantly meeting people of different backgrounds, and I change my behavior and mannerisms accordingly. Thinking about this, I wanted to explore the transition to one’s personal habitat, where you can finally relax and just “be” who you are.

Who is the intended audience, and is it different than the audience from the one you had in mind for Chameleon?
This piece is more universal. It shows how different people from different backgrounds change the way they behave around others and when they are alone.

I see the cast is multicultural, with dancers from Singapore, USA, Portugal, and Indonesia. Was it a challenge to bring together a cast from so many different places?
To be honest, although it’s “easier” to label the cast by our passport countries, we are, in fact, a collection of multicultural individuals who have lived in different parts of the world at various times. Right now, two of us live in Singapore and the other two in New York. The biggest challenge we faced was rehearsing on separate continents, given the time difference. We relied heavily on email and YouTube, and later on Skype. As the choreographer, I faced the challenge of conveying what I wanted to see from the 2-D perspective of video. Slowly but surely, the show has come together piece by piece, like a jigsaw puzzle.

How did you find the other dancers?
I’ve worked with Laura on Chameleon and was working with her on the creation of draft material prior to my move back to Singapore last year. I met Ezekiel in Singapore; we both teach dance for the same company. Belinda and I are friends from New York; she and I met at an audition for a choreographer I danced for while living there. We found out that we trained with the same jazz dance instructor while I was growing up here in Singapore and took the same classes.


Are the other dancers also TCKs or “displaced” in some way?
I think I’m the only TCK, but of the other three cast members, two are expats and the other is bi-cultural, with both parents originating from different countries and cultures. I guess you could say we are a “displaced” group. I knew I wanted to work with a multicultural cast again because it made for such an interesting group dynamic with Chameleon—although in this case, the cast has not worked together before.

You’re now in Edinburgh. What’s it been like so far?
When we first arrived, we had about 20 hours of rehearsal (including tech and dress rehearsals). The pieces are gradually falling into place.

Act 4: Life after Edinburgh?



Do you have plans to take Habitat anywhere else?
Yes, we are encouraging theatre venue producers, programmers, agents, etc. to come see Habitat during the Fringe in hopes it can be produced in other venues around the world.

Where do you think the show will go next?
I’m not sure—I’d like to bring it down to Australia. I also really enjoyed Toronto Fringe a couple years ago and might bring Habitat there. We are also looking to get this show booked for different venues across Europe, Asia, and North America.

* * *

If you happen to be in Edinburgh, here are the details for Alaine’s show:

  • Number of performers: four, including Alaine
  • Show length: 45 minutes
  • When and where: July 31 – August 13, 2013 @ C Venues (Venue 34), Adam House, Chambers Street, Edinburgh, United Kingdom.
  • Time: 1:50 pm every day.
  • Purchase tickets here.
  • Trailer:

Habitat in Edinburgh Fringe Festival from Alaine Handa on Vimeo.

Questions for Alaine? Be sure to leave them in the comments section!

STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts.

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img: Video Stills by Kevin Tadge, taken from preview performances of Habitat at the Edinburgh Fringe (2013).

TCK TALENT: Alaine Handa choreographs her way to festivals in Toronto and now Edinburgh (1/2)

AlaineHanda_pmToday we introduce a new monthly column by Elizabeth (Lisa) Liang. Remember that Guatemalan-American of Chinese-Spanish-Irish-French-German-English descent who was putting on a one woman show in LA about being a Third Culture Kid? You know, she “came out” as a TCK on stage, and lived to write a post about it? Lisa will be searching for other TCK talents to interview for the series. She debuts with a two-part conversation with fellow TCK performing artist Alaine Handa (pictured). Part 2 is here.

—ML Awanohara

Third Culture Kids (TCKs) are making headlines these days for their creative output. We see them being featured in established news outlets and online magazines, as well as on popular blogs. I suspect that the emergence of Barack Obama as national and global leader—he is an Adult TCK (ATCK)—has contributed to the phenomenon.

Still, ATCKs in the performing arts remain relatively rare, so as an ATCK actress-writer I’m always happy to learn of fellow ATCK performing artists like Alaine Handa, a second-generation TCK who works as a choreographer/dancer.

Alaine was born in Singapore. She spent her childhood in Jakarta and adolescence in Singapore. She went to college in Los Angeles, California, and then moved to New York, where she formed her own troupe in December 2007: A.H. Dance Company.

She has since moved back to Singapore, where she has lived for the last year.

In this, the first of a two-part interview, I ask Alaine to tell us about her company, her TCK background, and her first internationally touring show, Chameleon: The Experiences of Global Citizens. In Part Two of the interview, to be posted tomorrow, we’ll move on to talking about her production that is about to premiere (!) at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

* * *

Hi, Alaine. I’m curious: what led you to form your own dance company?
Ever since I was a young teenaged dancer, I aspired to have a professional dance company that toured the world performing in different venues, festivals and theaters. I think it was because I longed to have my own choreographic voice to create dance pieces that meant something to me. Still, the decision wasn’t easy to go from dancer/choreographer to choreographer first and dancer second. After moving to New York, I continued performing for other choreographers and project-based dance companies. I only decided at the end of 2009 to focus solely on choreography while performing occasionally. I guess you could say I never lost my determination to make that happen.


Can you tell us more about your background as a second-generation Third Culture Kid?
Both my parents are TCKs. My heritage is mostly Hakka Chinese (with a bit of mix in there somewhere along the lineage). My grandparents and great-grandparents were Chinese immigrants from somewhere in China who settled in Jakarta. My mom attended an English school until it was shut down due to political pressure. She then was sent to boarding schools in Hong Kong and Sydney, and she graduated from an Australian university outside of Sydney. Meanwhile, my Dad attended a Chinese school in Jakarta before it was shut down. He helped his parents for a couple of years and then was sent to Singapore to learn English. After a year, he went to London to attend university and then to Boston to obtain a doctoral degree in optometry.

Which culture do you most identify with?
I attended American international schools in Jakarta and Singapore so I’d say I’m culturally very American. I majored in dance through UCLA’s Department of World Arts & Cultures, which looked at dance and the arts in a sociological-anthropological way and as a community-building catalyst. And then I spent seven years performing, teaching, choreographing, living, creating, loving, and building a community of TCKs in New York.

ACT 1: Chameleon goes to the Toronto Fringe Festival


A couple of years ago, your company put on a show at the Toronto Fringe Festival entitled Chameleon: The Experiences of Global Citizens. I enjoyed watching the video clip of your performance. Please tell us more about it.
Chameleon, the Experiences of Global Citizens is a full dance production with a rotating cast of three to six dancers using film, spoken word, jewelry design, music, and photography, to support the personal stories of TCKs, Cross-Cultural Kids (CCKs), and Global Citizens. Each dancer performs a solo in the production in addition to dancing in the group sections.

The video excerpt is only one section of the production: my solo. (Thanks for watching!) I layered together three different poems for the sound:

  1. “Uniquely Me,” by Alex Graham James from Ruth Van Reken and David C. Pollock’s book, Third Culture Kids: Growing up Among Worlds.
  2. “De Främmande Länderna” by Edith Södergran (translated into English), a Swedish poet I studied while attending UCLA.
  3. Last but not least, “Eulogy to my multi-racial / Multi-cultural ancestors / Also known as the anti-eulogy / To my multi-racial / Multi-cultural ancestors,” by Leilani Chan, an Asian-American theatre director in LA.

It sounds as though you’ve rolled TCK and CCK art into one cohesive piece—much like a TCK or CCK individual is the sum of many seemingly disparate parts, creating a vivid, unique entity. What was the thought process that produced this art?
Hmmm…my thought process in creating Chameleon was a lengthy one as it is very personal to me. A little trip down memory lane is probably the best way to describe it.

I graduated high school in 2001 and then moved to Southern California to attend Pitzer College. 9/11 happened a couple of weeks in. Everyone in the States was in patriotic mode. I didn’t quite fit in. Many journal entries, tears, frustrations, and conversations later, I wrote about my experience as an outsider/insider and drafted a dance piece about my mixed up cultural identity that I wanted to choreograph for my senior project. I transferred to UCLA for my third and fourth year. I experienced bouts of severe depression and several anxiety attacks throughout my college years and began to see the “light” at the end of the dark tunnel my final year.

A friend told me about the Third Culture Kids book in 2003, and a life-changing epiphany happened. I returned to my journal entries and found my ideas to create a dance piece about my experience as a TCK for my senior project. I cast a multicultural group of dancers, interviewed TCKs I knew for my very first documentary film “I am a TCK,” and rented a theatre in L.A. for my senior project and titled the piece “Third Culture Kids.” The first part of the production was the half-hour documentary film followed by a 20-minute dance piece that was autobiographical in nature. This would become the very first draft of Chameleon.

After graduation from UCLA, I was burnt out and moved to New York to pursue a career in dance. I knew that my TCK dance piece needed to be re-created again at some point. I performed for a bunch of independent choreographers, dance companies, and was teaching dance in the public schools in Brooklyn. I formed A.H. Dance Company at the end of 2007 and we had two performing seasons before I decided the time was right to tackle the stories and experiences of TCKs again. I cast dancers that were cross-cultural or TCKs, a TCK actress, a TCK jewelry designer (who created our prop pieces that were an amalgamation of HER TCK experiences), and TCK/CCK/TCA photographers submitted their work to be used as backdrops for the dance sections. I also extended and re-edited the film “I am a TCK” by interviewing even more TCKs. We premiered the piece at University Settlement in New York as part of their Spring Season in 2010, after receiving some funding from Singapore International Foundation, which also funded the performance at the Toronto Fringe Festival.

ACT II: Chameleon travels widely and goes global

We toured the production to festivals and organizations with community programming. I even presented portions of the piece, including the rehearsal process, twice at the annual Families in Global Transitions (FIGT) conference, where I met Ruth Van Reken, Tina Quick, Apple Gidley, Jo Parfitt, Julia Simens, Judy Rickatson, and many more of the TCK researchers, expat writers/bloggers, international educators, and more.

I am very proud of this work and how it has traveled around the world. Currently, Chameleon has taken on a more educational approach. I’ve re-set portions of the piece for student TCK dancers from Singapore American School and they performed it in Kuala Lumpur as well as in Singapore. In January this year, I traveled to Guangzhou to re-set a simpler version on TCK students (a lot of them were non-dancers) at the Utahloy International School for a week-long residency that culminated in a performance. The rehearsal process of telling the personal stories of TCKs through movement and dance with spoken word was equally as rewarding as the student performance itself.

* * *

This just in from Alaine at the Edinburgh Festival: The preview performances of her latest production, Habitat, have been going well, and they’ve even received a recommendation from a local newspaper, behind famous greats like Carlos Acosta and the Bolshoi Ballet (which are actually playing in London). Kudos, Alaine!

Tomorrow we’ll talk to Alaine about how this production came about. Any questions for her, meantime?

STAY TUNED for Part 2 of Lisa Liang’s conversation with Alaine Handa.

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img: Alaine Handa, by Anthony Schiavo, courtesy A.H. Dance Company.

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